Interviewing Relatives

Interviewing relatives can be either very rewarding or dreadfully regrettable. Your approach to the relationship will determine how successful (or not) the interview will be. There are a few guidelines you should follow when approaching 83 year old Aunt Hattie Mae. First things first: establish a relationship of trust. If you don't already have an open line of communication with the relative, create one. Let's face it, life is all about relationships and if you don't have one with Aunt Hattie Mae, why should she share some possibly embarrassing yet vitally important information with you? Secondly, pace yourself. Don't expect to get all of your answers on the first go around so take your time to get what you need first (unless of course Aunt Hattie Mae is about to expire). Finally, keep the interviewing time down to an hour and keep the questions clear but open ended. You can also help keep the time down by using a tape recording device (ask the relative for their permission first!). Below are just a few questions that you might want to consider asking. Modify them according to the relative.

  • What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you?
  • Do you have a nickname?
  • When and where were you born?
  • How did your family come to live there?
  • Were there other family members in the area? Who?
  • Is there a private family cemetery or "homestead"? If not, where are most of the family members buried?
  • What church did the family belong to?
  • Were there any special items in the house that you remember? Family Bible, portrait, cedar chest?
  • Did you attend school, if so, where? What grade level did you complete?
  • Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
  • Who were your friends and neighbors when you were growing up?
  • What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any of them personally affect your family?
  • Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
  • What do you know about your family surname? Is there a naming tradition in your family, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather?
  • What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents and other ancestors?
  • Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
  • What was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
  • Where and when did you get married?
  • Why did you choose your children's names?
  • Were there any patterns of disease in the family such as Lupus, diabetes, etc.?
  • Has anyone in the family ever started a family tree? If so, who? Did they have children?
  • Is there anyone else I can talk to for more information?
  • Would you be willing to answer questions for me in the future?

You can conduct interviews either by letter, phone, email or in person depending upon the relatives location. You can use all three methods, if you choose, just choose one today! Remember: Aunt Hattie Mae is 83. Like all other aunts and grandmothers who were willing to share, one day weren't able to and the stories have remained untold ever since. If you let the opportunity pass you by, your children and grandchildren will inherit the same dilemma you have today.